Reviewed by Henry L. Carrigan Jr.
It's been 17 years since we've had a new album from Tanya Tucker, so it's a real pleasure to hear her clear throaty vocals deliver these songs with her characteristic raw emotion. Tucker knows how to get into a song and make it her own, and she demonstrates her ability to turn phrases on this set of songs. Every song is a gem, and every song might be describing some aspect of her own life. Brandi Carlile and Shooter Jennings produced the album, and Jennings played piano almost every track, while Carlile sings background vocals on most tracks.
"Mustang Ridge," is the perfect opening track for Tucker's exuberant and emotionally powerful release. The singer might regret choices she's made in the past - "sometimes the past is hard to outrun" - but she's embracing her new freedom and not looking back now - "Got my knee on the wheel and I'm feeling free, with my hobnail on the gas." Tucker's crystal clear defiance grows stronger as the background vocals swell in harmony on chorus and float under the lyrics.
"I Don't Owe You Anything" is a honky-tonk blues declaration of freedom from the past and its drudgery. Tucker proclaims that there's a season for everything, and that season involving this relationship has passed: "Well I made your bed and I made your lunch and for the last time your clothes are out to dry/I know you like my own reflection, I see her in your eyes/Darlin' I ain't growing old with you/I don't need your front porch swing/Well, I raised up all your babies/I don't owe you anything."
Spare piano chords open "High Ridin' Heroes," a spacious, flowing tune that could just as well describe Tucker's life: "Those ole high ridin' heroes/They're anywhere the wind blows/She's been to hell and Texas and she knows how it feels to be/Riding that hot streak and drunk on some back street/Falling off that wagon and under the wheels." "Hard Luck" is pure country soul, fueled by Tucker's soul shouts and a never-look-back-keep-on-truckin' defiance: "hard luck, keep on truckin'." Carlile provides a spare piano arrangement for "Bring My Flowers Now" over which Tucker sings her plaintive vocals, requesting "bring my flowers now while I'm livin'/I won't need your love when I'm gone."
"While I'm Livin'" is a hell of a record and everything you'd expect from Tucker, whose vocals haven't lost their power and whose steady brilliance with a song delivers as much emotional power as it ever has. Tucker's album clearly is one of the best albums of the year.